Sunday, May 10, 2015

NY Times: Let me throw stones at you from my castle of privilege

Last week, it was someone at Princeton, decrying conferences as a waste of time. The writer is "weary of conferences."  Oh, sure, she can afford them--who can't?--but why go to conferences when you can discuss great thoughts with the world-class scholar across the hall?

And what do those grimy proles who look forward to them have to tell her anyway?

Some of her complaints are justified--about monotonous reading of presentations and so on.  These are the same issues that you and I and everyone else, everywhere, have been writing about on blogs for at least 10 years.  But then, we are grimy proles, and she has just discovered that water is wet and the sky is blue, so that makes it fresh knowledge.

Next it is our old friend Mark Bauerlein, who has exhausted the patience of extended his reach beyond the Chronicle to complain about students these days, and how they are disengaged, and all that stuff he has been saying for a while.  Edited to add: He could take this song to the Wall Street Journal, too, while he's at it, because they love to run the same lament.

As with Princeton Prof, he's not entirely wrong, but he seems really shocked that no one wants to be a disciple any more.

I am not Jesus, nor do I play a deity on TV, so I am fine with having a limited number of disciples.  I don't see this as the death of the university.

But Bauerlein is also shocked by this:
Since then, though, finding meaning and making money have traded places. The first has plummeted to 45 percent; the second has soared to 82 percent.
This reminds me of Dean Dad's lament about college students' idealism. Could it be because students in 2015 have a legitimate concern about finding a job that will pay them a living wage? About the economy being destroyed by Big Finance in 2008 and still not recovering except for vast wealth for the 1% and disgracefully low-wage jobs for the rest of us? About being massively in debt with no way to discharge it (unlike our corporate overlords)?

Yes, both authors have books to sell.  Why do you ask?  For that reason, I can't blame the authors.  If academically privileged people can sell their opinions to the NY Times, and they always can, why wouldn't they?

However, I am at a loss why the editors at the NYTimes consider these opinion pieces as representative of education.

Maybe it's for the same reason that they worry obsessively about the life satisfaction of wealthy, well-educated white women.

Maybe they see opinion pieces from people of privilege as appealing to the same people who will read a lengthy feature article about the Kardashians, because God knows there is a serious, internet-wide dearth of any information about all things Kardashian.

But I would just once like to see an article there that doesn't paint education as a going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket enterprise with people from privileged institutions piling on to make the handbasket go faster.


Contingent Cassandra said...

It raised my hackles, too (and, if my facebook feed is any measure, the hackles of a good many other folks as well). I'm not sure I have enough energy left over from the ongoing process of Trying to Grade All the Things (combined with the ongoing process of Trying to Get Students to Turn in All of the Things So They Can Be Graded) to parse all the reasons why, but we could start with his self-congratulatory description of scheduling biweekly conferences with all his comp students, and his implication that professors who don't do the same are preoccupied by their research. I once followed that model -- when I was a grad student and then an adjunct at an Ivy League school, with a total load of <30 students spread over two sections. It's a great model, but there's no way I can follow it with the 80 students I'd have if my 4-course load were all English 101, or the c. 90 students I have when I'm teaching 4 sections of upper-level Writing In the Disciplines. Not to mention that my students' work/family/other responsibility schedules preclude their coming to conferences every other week (unless I can somehow fit half the class in during scheduled class hours -- but then when do we have class?). I'm happy to see someone championing the value of teaching in a research-oriented institution, but until the majority of people teaching the gen ed level classes have loads that allow them to spend that amount of time per student -- and until the students have good enough funding to allow them to spend that much time per class -- the problems he describes (to the extent they exist) aren't going away.

tl;dr: the issues are structural, and no amount of dedication to teaching from professors (tenured or not, overwhelmed or not) is going to solve them.

undine said...

Contingent Cassandra--I'm not sure that Mark Bauerlein counts anything but the model he describes as giving students a "real" education; he thus doesn't acknowledge that other models exist. It's handy for an attack op-ed but as you say, it doesn't square much with the real world.